Concerns about medical supplies after Brexit keep Whitehall mandarin awake

A top health official has admitted concerns over medicine supplies after Brexit are keeping him awake at night.

Sir Chris Wormald told MPs he also lost sleep about the impact quitting the European Union would have on the NHS workforce as well as future arrangements about treating patients on their travels.

The issues were the same regardless of whether a deal had been struck, the Department of Health’s permanent secretary said.

Asked about his main concerns, he told the Brexit committee: “Those three are securing the supply of medicines, workforce questions and reciprocal health care arrangements with the EU 27.

“Those are the three things that keep me awake on this subject.”

Sir Chris told the committee most health issues “haven’t been hugely contentious”.

“Most of our issues are practical ones,” he added.

Sir Chris sidestepped questions over whether he was confident supplies of essential medicines would be maintained in the event of no deal, saying he never issued guarantees.

He said buffer stocks were being organised but there would be other decisions that needed to be made “along the way”.

“We are confident that we are putting in place all the correct mitigations but, an incredibly complex supply chain, it of course remains very challenging.

Operation Stack
Lorries parked up on the M20 motorway (John Stillwell/PA)

“I should say it’s quite challenging in normal circumstances. There are always medicines that we are worried about at any given time.”

Sir Chris was setting out the preparations being made for Brexit along with other top civil servants.

Bernadette Kelly, permanent secretary at the Department for Transport, told MPs “advanced plans” for dealing with queuing lorries were being put in place on the M20, M26 and at Manston Airport in Kent.

Asked if contracts had been signed for portable toilets for lorry drivers held up on motorways in the south east, she told MPs “necessary arrangements” were being made.

Ms Kelly also told the committee she expected air passengers would be able to fly to and from the UK in the “extremely unlikely” event that no deal was reached.

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